Lust for Love / The Tailor from Ulm Review
Here in the UK you could be forgiven for assuming that Edgar Reitz’s sole contribution to the moving image was his mammoth Heimat series. We’ve released its various instalments into cinemas, screened them on television and packaged them together in lavish DVD sets. The rest of his work, however, has remained practically unreleased. The one exception prior to the discs under review was the inclusion of the anthology film Germany in Autumn in one of Artificial Eye’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder collections; Reitz was one of eleven contributing directors. Consequently you could also be forgiven for not knowing that he was one of the key filmmakers of New German Cinema and a signatory of the Oberhausen Manifesto.
A few years back the situation was much the same in Reitz’s home country. Whilst the early works of such major New German Cinema directors as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders remained on the radar, the pre-Heimat films had settled into obscurity. It was only when an Italian company came calling, with the hopes of providing a complete retrospective, that it became clear what a poor state the original materials were in. Reitz set about rectifying the situation and embarked on full-scale restorations of all of his early works, shorts included. In 2010 a set of seven DVDs emerged in Germany which brought together six features - Lust for Love (1967), Cardillac (1969), The Golden Thing (1971), The Journey to Vienna (1974), Zero Hour (1977) and The Tailor from Ulm (1977) - plus various miniatures, including documentaries and experimental pieces. The two discs under review here have now been issued in the UK through Bluebell with the heading ‘The Edgar Reitz Collection’ making it safe to assume that, sales permitting, more are to follow.
Lust for Love (aka Table for Love, aka Mealtimes, a more literal translation of the original Mahlzeiten) was Reitz’s feature debut. With its black and white photography, freewheeling style and young leads, it’s hard not to attune the film with other groundbreaking titles of the same time: Sweden’s I Am Curious - Yellow, say, or Czechoslovakia’s A Blonde in Love. As with so many works from so many new waves, you sense Reitz’s enthusiasm behind the camera and the possibilities the medium allows him. That energy is infectious, yet the debutant director also knows what he’s doing with it. Lust for Love traces a relationship from its first flowering through to marriage, childbirth, infidelity and more besides; that energy naturally fluctuates as the picture progresses.
Alongside the nouvelle vague-isms, Reitz also maintains a sense of documentary realism. There’s a dispassionate voice-over that crops up from time to time. There are intertitles to denote key moments in this couple’s life. There are scenes which were clearly caught in non-fiction circumstances yet fit into the overall picture without fuss. The intention, it would appear, is to demark the narrative with the same level of reality. This is the true face of marriage and parenthood in late sixties Germany, not what was being seen in the nation’s popular cinema at the time. Interestingly, Reitz is also more firmly focused on the female half of the picture - she gets the greater screen time and attention; he often disappears for months on end to look after the children. This feminist angle makes Lust for Love a worthy companion to Alexander Kluge’s 1973 feature Occasional Work of a Female Slave. Unsurprisingly, Reitz and Kluge have collaborated a number of times throughout their careers, on features, on early shorts and on documentaries.
The Tailor from Ulm was the last of the pre-Heimat features and a far cry from Lust for Love in terms of style and setting. It was a biopic of Albrecht Ludwig Berbinger, who had created a flying contraption in the early nineteenth century akin to a hang glider. Handsomely mounted, The Tailor from Ulm recreates both the age and those contraptions exceedingly well; the budget is all up there on the screen. And the film itself is an engaging one, though far more conventional than the works which had preceded it. Nonetheless, audiences weren’t particularly interested and it came close to bankrupting both its director and his production company. As a result he took some time away from filmmaking to research his homeland - his Heimat - eventually returning with his masterpiece six years later. Perhaps Berbinger was the wrong subject for Reitz. In retrospect you’d imagine that his compatriot Werner Herzog would have done much more with this driven figure from their country’s past.
Lust for Love and The Tailor from Ulm have been released individually by Bluebell, both as extras-free editions. In each case we have an excellent presentation thanks to the restoration work presided over by Reitz and his son Christian (now the cinematographer on much of his father’s work). The prints are blemish free and the level of detail particularly impressive, all the more so with the black and white photography of the earlier feature. Both are presented in their original aspect ratios, with The Tailor from Ulm anamorphically enhanced. The soundtracks, in their original German-language mono, are in just as good a condition with any flaws no doubt a result of their production rather than their transfer onto disc. Note, however, that the English subtitles are burnt into the image. As said, not a single special feature.